I-Fluid (PC) review
So there I was, browsing through the bowels of the Steam store looking for bargains during their post-Christmas sale. After going through some of the big-name stuff, I found a game called "I-Fluid" for sale. Looking it up on several gaming websites to attempt to figure out what it was proved fruitless, no one I knew had ever heard of it, and the official website offered only a vague description as to exactly what it was. Even the torrent sites had seemingly never heard of it, so piracy wasn't even an option. So I did something I very rarely do these days - I bought it. Almost immediately my questions about what the game was were answered. At its heart, I-Fluid is a physics sim/platformer... about water.
The basic idea behind I-Fluid is playing as a single drop of water on its way through a sewer system. In order to open the pipes leading to your final destination, you must go through a house turned obstacle course. As simple and easy as this may seem, it isn't. Water has many common household enemies. The first and most widespread danger are absorbent surfaces – things like towels, paper, dry bread, and a million others you would never think of. Then you have hot surfaces, such as stovetops and giant fondue pots, which will cause your water drop to evaporate like the proverbial snowball in hell. Add to that the danger of height, which will cause your water drop to lose mass and eventually splatter into nothingness, and you've got a pretty good idea of just how deadly a typical house is to a water drop. However, there's also a bunch of typical household items that will restore your water drop to its full capacity – wet or water-rich objects like fruit.
Of course, your water drop isn't completely defenseless. While at first, all you can do is move around and push small objects out of your way, you eventually get the ability to double jump, climb up wet surfaces, and possess water-rich objects (which for some reason includes potatoes and giant metal balls).
I-Fluid's level design is really the focus of the game, and there it excels – at least in certain places. The various houses you traverse each have a different theme. One of my favorites is the “taco night” level, where your droplet must make its way over a hot frying pan full of jumping sliced vegetables and bowls of salsa in order to jump on top of a box of tacos and make a small hanging mexican hat swing. Then you have a different level where it's breakfast time and you must round up seven strawberries into a bowl, the highlight of which is a berry with a little paper cocktail umbrella stuck into it. To get that particular strawberry back, you have to possess it and then use the hot plate beneath it to fly into the bowl – a maneuver which shows off just how good the game is capable of looking. However, some of the other levels are a mixed bag, including the Japanese level, where you must free a sea urchin from inside a plastic box, ride it over a hot stove, then use it to jump halfway across a room to a bar on the other end. At the start of that level, you have to turn off a fan using its remote control, which is located on top of a high platform filled with water-absorbent sushi which is seemingly impossible to scale with your normal jump.
Hopefully by that point you've learned how to abuse your drop's limited ability to climb dry surfaces. I still haven't quite figured out if this is a glitch or not – the game never mentions that you can do it, and there are several levels where you can bypass half the obstacles using it, while others seem to require its use. In essence, by using your climb ability on a dry surface, you can climb up for a limited amount of time, after which you start sliding down. What the developers apparently failed to realize is that while the drop is sliding down, you can use the climb again to get even higher – then drop back down and repeat until you're on top of whatever object it is you need to get over.
For an independently made game, I-Fluid has spectacular graphics – so much so that it requires a beast of a machine to run. The game makes as much use of graphically-intensive mirror effects as Doom 3 did of darkness. There's also heavy use of HDR lighting and relatively sharp textures on any settings besides low. The one problem I had with I-Fluid here is that it does NOT like older systems at all. If your computer can't handle running the game with at least 30FPS at all times, the game starts getting ornery and complaining in the top-left about it. If your framerate stays consistently low, the game will actually block you from playing, which is rather odd as even if you were going to use a low framerate as some kind of bizarre cheat method there is no multiplayer to cheat on. On low settings you will also see frequent graphical glitches, including your water drop and several other objects occasionally turning completely black for no reason – or turning completely white.
The last comment I'm going to make about I-Fluid is about the physics system. I-Fluid uses “Phys-X”, a GPU-based engine present on most new cards. What happens is that the physics engine gets extremely glitchy at times. For instance, on that level I mentioned earlier with the strawberries - in order to get the strawberries into the bowl (except the flying one), you have to move them over a spoon that serves as a ramp. Naturally, putting weight on one end of the spoon causes it to dip down – except for the few occasions when I saw it mysteriously dip down then get stuck in a position that made it impossible to finish the level. On other levels, after dying and respawning you can spawn underneath an object and repeatedly die until you restart the level. I've also seen more than one crash to desktop directly attributable to the physics engine.
I-Fluid is definitely a good game if you want to see what a new videocard (especially if you're upgrading from a few years ago) can do, and if you want something that will eat up a few hours. It's not the best game ever, and certainly has more than its share of flaws, but for $10 you really can't go too wrong. Final Score: 6/10
Community review by timrod (January 24, 2009)
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